The writer is a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He is an author and has appeared on national TV, including "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show." This starts a series of his twice-a-month health columns for Deadline Detroit.
By Dr. Joel Kahn
The Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on Southeastr Michigan residents and health care workers. Over the last six months we have learned that the death rate is much higher for those who are obese and suffer from diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and lung disease.
Is there anything we can learn from this experience to protect ourselves from a second wave of this virus or future ones?
The top four U.S. causes of death are heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes. Research studies performed over 25 years ago determined that in over 85 percent of cases of these chronic medical conditions, just 3 habits were to blame: smoking, a diet of poor quality and processed foods and physical inactivity. These 3 lifestyle patterns account for hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly across the USA and have become the focus of deaths due to Covid-19.
The response of health organizations and governmental leaders has been on external factors like masks, hand washing, and physical distancing. All of this has helped lower the burden of illness and death.
However, largely absent from the conversation has been a self-assessment regarding the health habits we choose or ignore. Not often discussed is the fact that 70 percent of our immune system lines our gastrointestinal system, constantly assessing the quality of food, drink and toxins ingested.
Choosing just one meal rich in saturated fats from cheeses, meats, cream, and baked goods drenched in saturated fats from lard, butter, and animal fat create a wave of inflammation throughout our bodies for hours. This does not happen with a meal composed of whole foods, fresh and brightly colored, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Furthermore, processed and fast foods full of excess salt, sugar, oils, preservatives, artificial dyes and flavors trigger chronic inflammation and suppress our ability to respond to an invasion by an infectious agent like the coronavirus.
A lack of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and C, zinc, fiber, magnesium, quercetin and selenium impair our ability to contain an infection. The chronically inflamed state induced by obesity, diabetes and heart disease provides the setting for developing the cytokine storm that is lethal in many cases of Covid-19.
While exercise improves our immune system, a sedentary pattern of activity makes us susceptible to infection. Smoking injures the lining of our airways making us incapable of clearing toxins and infectious agents.
Now is the time to learn how to purchase and prepare healthy foods like greens, beans, rice and spices -- foods that are low-cost and nutritious. Using parks and trails to take walks and ride bikes with proper distancing is to be encouraged. Reminders to quit smoking, limit alcohol and plan seven to eight hours of sleep at night are constantly needed. Advice by national leaders in pulmonary and critical care medicine to add in vitamin C, D, and zinc should be shared.
Winston Churchill said that “healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” Our region is suffering from decades of decay due to poor nutrition, inadequate fitness and smoking.
This is true both in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. It is intolerable that we can find fast food restaurants in the lobby of medical centers in our area.
It's time to rebuild our region, one healthy meal at a time, one mile walked at a time, one night slept deeply at a time and one pack of cigarettes not smoked at a time. Then we will be strong and better-equipped to defend against the next infectious risk to our community.